My Lords, Covid presents a triple whammy to the UK’s economic prospects: supply, demand and finance have all taken a hit. We need a comprehensive, funded plan for all sectors as our response. I want to focus on skills and manufacture and the importance of equity in our response across regions and all demographic communities. We cannot leave any part of our country behind, as has been the case in recovery from previous downturns, nor can we allow existing patterns of disadvantage—as experienced, not least, by Britain’s black and ethnic minority communities—to continue. There is already some evidence to suggest that BAME applicants face continued disadvantage in accessing existing government schemes for Covid-related assistance. How is central government ensuring this is not the case? Will the Minister tell us what data is being collected and whether the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office is working with HMT on this? It needs to.
On the wider issue of manufacture, the lesson is surely that we need a strategic industrial policy that supports manufacture in the UK not only for our large global market leaders, which need to be supported with access to capital, but for small and medium-sized enterprises. Where, in the past, we have been content to outsource our orders for PPE, ventilators and other essential equipment to overseas suppliers, we now surely need an active interventionist policy to support our domestic industrial base. This needs to be backed up by procurement policy that actively favours our domestic suppliers where our national interest dictates that it should. We hear about the new freedoms outside the EU; this is an opportunity to demonstrate that.
We know too that there are regional/sectoral variations, which have to be addressed. We need to support local initiatives, with local employees and trade unions coming together with the LEP network to address these issues in order to meet local needs, supported by central government funding. We must also recognise that we need a funding entity that is prepared not simply to hold loans but to convert them if necessary into equity stakes.
Underpinning all this is Make UK’s call for a national skills taskforce, so we have a workforce that is equipped to face the challenges going forward, with well-paid, meaningful jobs that serve this country’s interests and protect us as we go forward into the future.